Feeling Trapped


When William Campion was in the intensive-care unit (ICU) this month after a double lung transplant, he felt nervous and scared and could breathe only with the help of a machine.

Joel Nightingale Berning, a chaplain at Mr. Campion’s hospital stopped by. He saw that Mr. Campion had a tube in his neck and windpipe, which prevented him from speaking. The chaplain held up a communication board—not the kind used to check a patient’s physical pain and needs, but a “spiritual board” … The board also lets patients rate their level of spiritual pain on a scale of 0 through 10, from none to “extreme.” Mr. Campion, a 69-year-old Catholic, indicated his spiritual pain was acute: 8. Using the picture board, he signaled that he wanted to pray. The chaplain recited the Lord’s Prayer as Mr. Campion followed silently.

ICUs have evolved in recent years and even the critically ill are being sedated less than before. As doctors came to believe that heavy sedation—once the norm in such units—could be harmful, many patients are now breathing with the help of machines, and are conscious…more ICU patients (are) awake and alert.  The fact that these patients can’t communicate adds to their frustration…many patients on these machines feel “trapped.”…They have been intubated, meaning they have a tube in their throat, attached to a machine that is breathing for them….

The 32-year-old chaplain, who is nondenominational, persuaded a fellow chaplain—Seigan Ed Glassing, a Zen Buddhist monk who had studied art—to help illustrate the board. The two included a range of faiths and belief systems, including Christian, Jewish and Hindu, as well as New Age, Pagan and agnostic. Colorful icons offer patients the option of a prayer or confession, or simply to have someone hold their hand. Chaplain Glassing said he loved figuring out “what would a blessing look like,” or how to draw “make [me] an altar.” A favorite: depicting someone asking to be read a poem.

The study, with results published last August in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, looked at 50 ICU patients who were offered spiritual care through the board. Researchers measured patients’ anxiety before and after the chaplain came, concluding that “anxiety after the first visit decreased 31%.”

Among patients who survived, 81% “felt more at peace,” while 71% felt “more connected with what is sacred.”

~ Lucette Lagnado, excerpts from A ‘Spiritual Board’ Brings Comfort to the Critically Ill

Post inspired and triggered by two of my favorite movies: The Bell and The Butterfly and The Sea Inside.


  1. Fantastic idea! When we can re-connect and express ourselves in this way, it can really help in healing the body.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How wonderful! I suspect that still being seen as a person, rather than simply a ‘patient,’ is also incredibly palliative. When I’m sick, I feel scared and vulnerable, and having someone nearby whose attention is focused on me is comforting.Really lovely…

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s it Lori. You wish/hope you are never in this situation, but if you are, with tubes weaved down your throat, unable to communicate, you hope that someone steps up with something like this…


  3. How wonderful, David. It must be horrific to be in that condition. This simple, yet effective approach must, and would bring relief. In fact, when I was exhausted and unable to communicate during the illness I suffered, a board of this nature could have assisted me indeed…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. what a beautiful and compassionate endeavor.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A brilliant idea. I worked for a hospital that was taken over by a corporate entity from the Catholic Sisters of Mercy. Their first plan was to immediately remove all the religious artifacts from the rooms. It didn’t work. The community was outraged, the patients were disturbed. By the time I left, the crucifixes remained. Not sure when/if them came out, it mattered.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is great.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Whatever it takes, I do believe opportunities abound. To say even, ‘HE (emphasis mine) could only breathe …’ is to imagine he is only his body; that we are only our bodies. And doubtless this experience caused him to face his deepest fear that this is true. Once one walks through those doors of the worst case kind of existential terror, however, one begins, perhaps for the first time, to emerge into the light of certain undeniable truths. And the dance resumes. Aloha, David ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What a beautiful thing to create. I love that the board is more than religion as well. Makes it accessible to even more people

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The Sea Inside was a great movie. Can’t wait to see the other one.

    The board is intriguing. I will make my own board.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Christie says:

    We are in the mighty hands of God, his mercy and the care of those dedicated in helping others during difficult situations…using their skills set and the power of compassion…respecting and acknowledging the whole person with the spiritual board addresses such a vital aspect of care of body, mind and soul…

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great post — great idea.

    I was recently emailing a young friend (early 20s) in BC (who I have yet to meet face to face.) She was hit by a car and now suffers from a brain injury. She has every sort of medical care available but is very depressed and anxious. I finally suggested she probably needed spiritual care more than anything. She agreed.

    We forget that. It’s so often overlooked.

    Liked by 1 person

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